By Tim Hayes
The year was 1970 and I was all of 10 years old, one of about 40 Cub Scouts sitting on the floor of the local Moose Lodge one chilly Friday evening, spellbound by the superlative storytelling of Mr. Vis, one of the troop leaders.
Good gravy, Mr. Vis knew how to spin a tale. Using only his voice and his gestures, he had us Scouts (and our parents) alternatingly in terror or in stitches, crawling through a murky forest or soaring through a golden cloud, taking on a gang of villains or taking off for a new adventure. He did it with such aplomb, zest, and joy, that 40 years later I can still conjure the experience clearly in my mind.
Faxes didn’t exist back then. No e-mail either. Texting, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other electronic means to communicate we enjoy (or is it endure?) today would have fallen under the rubric of science fiction when Nixon occupied the White House. Nope, we had the U.S. Postal Service, the Bell Telephone Company, and each other. Those were pretty much the only means of communication.
And I miss those days.
According to a study done by GfK Technology cited in Fortune for Small Business magazine, 87 percent of adults today say they prefer dealing with others in person instead of via computers or smartphones. The same compilation of statistics shows that, according to Pear Analytics, 62 percent of all Tweets comprise babble or otherwise worthless information.
Of course, social media is here to stay, yet so much of it seems trivial, impersonal, and actually uncommunicative to me. Why does the English language need to fit on a two-inch screen? My guess is that most people have first-hand experience of an e-mail or text message – especially one meant to be funny or sarcastic – being misinterpreted and requiring even more follow-up damage-control communications. That’s silly and such a waste of time.
When you’re speaking on the phone, or better yet face-to-face with someone, the chances of being properly understood would seem to increase exponentially. When people can hear vocal inflections, read facial expressions, and get a human feel for what’s being said, things just work out better.
As a professional writer, I also get concerned about the ability of people to communicate powerful ideas with passion, to build and utilize a robust vocabulary, and to sustain a cogent thought for at least a paragraph or two. Anyone who thinks Tweeting will help along those lines qualifies as a twit in my book.
I overhear young people in my neighborhood debating ways to communicate with their friends, but placing a phone call where they would actually have to speak back and forth with another person rarely even gets considered. That’s a damn shame. My bet is, if kids today had been with me and my friends as Mr. Vis wove his amazing stories, they’d feel differently and would look for ways to talk face-to-face more often.
Copyright 2010 Tim Hayes Consulting